Who is CiviCRM?
CiviCRM has a unique and diverse community centered around developing, using, and documenting the software. Our community includes the CiviCRM core team, people at the non-profits that use CiviCRM; consultants working with a number of non-profit organizations; programmers and developers, power users, volunteers and community organizers! We are also closely related to many other open source projects.
Each member of the community interacts with CiviCRM in their own way, working to improve the software and how we organize ourselves. The strength of community comes from this diversity and the ease with which someone can join us, and means that we are constantly changing and improving, often in unexpected ways.
Like all communities your membership is characterised by your interactions. If you treat others well, have some fun, and help others, then you can expect to enjoy being a member of the CiviCRM community. But if you are prone to complaining or don't use a respectful tone in communications, or if you see the community just as a resource and not as a collection of very kind, generous and clever people, then you are probably not going to get much of a response. Treat people well and you can find the CiviCRM community fun and rewarding.
CiviCRM started in 2004 by Dave Greenberg, Donald Lobo and Michal Mach. The founders had a lot of previous experience working with non-profit organizations and tools. The group was influenced very early by Zack Rosen and Neil Drumm, who convinced them to use Drupal as a fundamental cornerstone for CiviCRM. This decision has meant that the developers have been able to leverage a lot of the functionality that Drupal provides, freeing the team up to focus on building the features necessary to make a great CRM.
In 2005 the first version of CiviCRM was released with two of the core modules in place: CiviMail and CiviContribute (you can read more about these later).
Since those early days CiviCRM has built a large community of users and contributors (there are now over 8000 installed sites), the software has gone from strength to strength (there are now 8 core modules and additional third party components), and the core team has expanded to 8 members. There is also a large ecology of free software contributors around the project and high-profile non-profit organisations such as Amnesty International, Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Software Foundation, Mozilla, and Wikimedia Foundation use CiviCRM.
It's good to talk
CiviCRM is an open and learning community, and people are ready to hear your ideas. If you have a good idea, there's nothing to stop you carrying it out - but the best way to start is to start talking about it.
If you're not sure where to start, the best place is probably the community forum (http://forum.civicrm.org/). Ask people what they think about your idea. There's a wealth of experience on the forum, and someone will, very possibly, have tried something similar before. CiviCRM people are a friendly bunch and their guiding philosophy is collaboration.
Depending on your idea, you'll be directed to the next best place; maybe an article on the blog (http://civicrm.org/blog/), a page on the wiki (http://wiki.civicrm.org/), a teleconference or a meeting up with another community member in real life, yes that's right, REAL LIFE!
Be the change
So you have a great idea. Now you need an equally great action plan to accompany this idea and then you'll need to implement it. Although the CiviCRM community is friendly and supportive and will like to be involved and updated about your project, you'll need to be the driver. How will you get the resources together for your project? How can you fit it in with your day job? Finding a way to simultaneously achieve your own objectives and benefiting the CiviCRM community is the best way of getting things done.
If you're a CiviCRM user who has an ongoing relationship with a consultant, there's nothing to stop you from also being an active member of the community. The community really benefits from direct feedback from end users - your consultant is only one person or organization - by asking on the forums you're opening yourself up to help and input from the entire community.